At 19, I took a year off from college and moved to London. I worked as a nanny for a family with three boys under the age of 2 (18-month-old twins and a newborn). I lived nearby with four roommates (three New Zealanders and a Canadian). I traveled everywhere, made new friends and fell in love at least twice.
I had long been obsessed with English literature. That was part of the appeal of going. To hike in the Lake District, where Wordsworth strolled. To visit the house in Bath where Jane Austen once lived. But while in England, I found myself reading distinctly American voices — Updike and Irving. Willa Cather. Dorothy Parker.
The definitive title of my time in London was Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres. It was the summer of 2002, and I knew I’d soon have to return home. I read and thought about this Great American Novel everywhere I went — I pictured the Iowa countryside as I rode on a train through Italy. I recommended the book to a stranger in a Hammersmith pub, and she later wrote me to say she had read and loved it. I stood outside the Globe Theatre, thinking deep thoughts about the power of Shakespeare’s stories, since Smiley uses King Lear as a model. I read on the nursery floor, crying softly over a character’s losses while my charges slept in their cribs.
Sullivan’s latest novel is The Engagements
Next Colum McCann